A Christmas Gift
By Ruth Bomar
“A decent young lady from a good home does not stay out so late,” Mother flashed her dark eyes at me.
I loved my new job and her words lacerated me as she sent me off with a heaping serving of warm guilt every time I walked out the door.
There was little to do in the control room at the little Christian TV station. The live shows ended at 10:00. The programming was pre-recorded until midnight. Quietly I waited. Close to 11:30 he always called. I felt wickedly clever to find a quiet place to talk.
“I have something to give you. Can I come see you at Christmas?” his gentle Texas drawl asked.
“Sure, why not?” The phone cradled in the crook of my neck and shoulder. He won’t come. College Station is an eleven-hour drive from El Paso.
“I have something to give you.”
The prospect of a gift from him made me giddy.
“Can I stay with you when I come?”
He was my first American boyfriend. Do American boyfriends drive across the state and stay at their girlfriend’s house? What about our parents? What about the neighbors? “Sure, you can stay here.”
My shift was over. I drove home in the family station wagon.
Several days had passed and I forgot I offered him lodging. I had finished finals. This Christmas was just going to be us three, my parents and me. My mom refused to celebrate. We had nothing to celebrate. There were no decorations, no presents and no special food. I was the only daughter left at home and Mama wept often. All my sisters had graduated and married – the only honorable ticket out of the house for Latinas. They lived with their American husbands in different states far from home. My mother often sighed and stared out the window at the desert mountain that loomed at the end of our street. Maybe this mountain held the answer to dispel the heaviness that filled our home.
In the darkness I pulled into the driveway. The house was quiet. The phone rang. I answered before the first ring finished.
“Did you just turn off your porch light?” His familiar twang asked.
“How do you know these things?”
“I was going to just walk up to your front door but I thought it would be better if I called.”
“What?” I gripped the phone. He came?
“I’m at the corner.”
I grabbed the phone cord and rushed to the front window, skipping sporadically to avoid the squeaky spots in the wooden floor beneath the thin gold colored carpet. I pulled aside the drapes. There across the street, at the pay phone a man waved. I felt the after cold midnight darkness through the window pane on my wet cheeks.
“Do you see me? I’m waving.”
“Are you insane? It’s one in the morning. My mother… What are you doing here?” I tripped over the phone cord.
“You said I could come and stay with ya’ll.”
“I said that but I didn’t mean it. I mean I didn’t think you meant it.”
“Us white guys, we say what we mean.”
I didn’t answer.
“Uh ….. do you think I could come in? It’s about 20 degrees out here.”
He walked into the kitchen. His tall frame dwarfed everything. He dodged the hanging string from the naked, light bulb overhead and sat at the chrome table. I knew my parents could hear us through the thin walls. They did not leave their bedroom. I stood alone and offered the typical gracious welcome to my night visitor from a far away place. I warmed up some milk on the gas stove for hot chocolate. The hope of a cheery Christmas caressed my heart.
The next day was Christmas Eve. My mom fried the last egg in the house for his breakfast. She scooped the egg from the frying pan onto a plate, and then pivoted from the stove to place it before my gentleman caller. As she turned, the greasy egg slid right off the plate and onto the floor. Our German shepherd leaned forward and licked it up.
“¡Negro! Sacame este perro de la casa. Get this dog out of the house.” My mother was mortified. My tall slender Texan just sat in the corner of my parents’ kitchen and watched the dog eat his breakfast. She was always a bit nervous around Americans. She smiled. “Do you like oatmeal?”
My pink friend nodded.
The phone rang and my mother answered. It was his mother. She didn’t know that her son wasn’t coming home for Christmas instead he was driving his ’66 Mustang across Texas to see a Mexican girl in El Paso.
“It’s all right.” I heard my mother tsk in English on the phone. “Young people nowadays. Would you like to speak to your son?” He took the phone and spoke quietly with his people in South Texas.
After breakfast he showered.
The doorbell rang. It was my Tia Pola. My aunt.
“Feliz Noche Buena. Happy Christmas Eve.” I kissed her cheek. She and Mama settled on the sofa to sip coffee. Before their last sip, my American friend walked across the living room barefoot, in jeans frayed at the bottom and no shirt. Without acknowledging anyone in the room, he walked out the door into the freezing temperature to get a shirt from his car. Both women froze with their coffee cup suspended half an inch from their puckered lips. Their eyes followed him out the front door.
“Nena, is there something you need to tell me?” Tia Pola asked Mama with her wide eyes on me.
“Mija, my daughter.” Mother placed the burden on me.
“Tia. Auntie, his name is Steve. I met him last summer when I stayed with Margarita in Corpus Christi.” I squirmed. My sister, Margarita, and her husband lived in Corpus. My brother-in-law had hired me as an intern at a TV station there for the summer. “He is an engineering student.” Engineering always impressed the family.
My aunt and mother exchanged meaningful looks. Who are his parents? Does he go to church? What does he want here? What does she see in him?
“¿Les traigo más café, mami? More coffee?” I offered.
As soon as propriety allowed I slipped away. My Texas traveler and I spent the day together. My house sat a few blocks from Mount Franklin, the tail end of the Rockies before they became the Sierra Madre in Mexico. We hiked up the desert slopes and there under the deep blue December sky, he gave me my gift. His lips found mine.
“Merry Christmas,” he whispered.